Viral Strategies of Immune Evasion


The Helmholtz Virtual Institute VISTRIE (Viral Strategies of Immune Evasion) comprises seven partners from German Universities and Research, as well as the Rijeka School of Medicine from Croatia. The focus of the Institute is on the study of the immune system by means of viral genetics.

Viruses are parasites that are most intimately associated with their hosts, because their replication is intracellular by definition. To survive, they had to adapt to our immune system through millions of years of natural selection and co-evolution. Their fast replication allows them to evolve thousands of times faster than their hosts and gives them a chance to always remain one step ahead in the competition with the host immune system, producing viral strategies of immune evasion.

It follows that viral immune evasive genes (evasins) are selected to target the most efficient antiviral mechanisms, because natural selection rewards the viruses who suppress the relevant and efficient immune mechanisms. Moreover, it follows that viruses that coevolved with one distinct host species had the best chance to adapt themselves to the species-specific immune mechanisms of a given host. 

The mission of VISTRIE is to harness millions of years of directed virus evolution and use it to focus on the immunological mechanisms that the viruses have identified as the most important in their control.

Research Objectives

The VISTRIE members share a common experimental platform by focusing on the immune evasion mechanisms of cytomegaloviruses, a family of viruses that coevolve with virtually all mammalian species, from mice to men. The human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) has the largest genome among viruses know to infect humans, whereas the mouse cytomegalovirus (MCMV) carries numerous homologies to HCMV, and allows the experimental study of evasins in biological systems. Therefore, the joint effort of the institute members allows them to translate the knowledge acquired in experimental animal systems to the conditions that are clinically relevant.

The VISTRIE partners work on three research topics, which are then further separated in several work-packages. The structure of the topics and work packages is:

Interferons (IFN)

i Screening of CMV encoded genes inhibiting the induction of IFN

ii Analysis of IFN receptor signaling inhibition by MCMV in vivo 

iii Identification of HCMV-encoded antagonists of IFN signaling 

iv Gene signatures in HCMV-stimulated primary human pDC 

v Cellular interactions in HCMV-induced type I IFN responses

vi Protective mechanisms of MCMV-induced type I IFN

Natural Killer Cells (NK Cells)

i MCMV interaction with NK cell receptors

ii NK cell immunoevasion in acute and chronic MCMV infection 

iii Interactions between HCMV induced ligands and NK cell receptors

iv Loading and Maturation of KIR ligands in HCMV infected cells

Cytotoxic T-cells (CD8+ T-cells)

i CMV modulation of MHC-I presentation

ii CD8 T cell activation

iii Effector CD8 mechanisms


Prof. M.D., Ph.D. Luka Cicin-Sain

Junior Research Group “Immune aging and Chronic Infection”

Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, Braunschweig, Germany

Prof. Dr. Melanie Brinkmann

Junior Research Group “Viral Immune Modulation”

Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, Braunschweig, Germany

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Martin Messerle

Virology Department, Research Group “Cytomegalovirus”

Medical School Hannover, Hannover, Germany

Professor Ulrich Kalinke

“Experimental Infection Research”

TWINCORE Centre for Expertmental and Clinical Infection Research, Hannover

Professor Hartmut Hengel

Institute for Virology

University Hospital Düsseldorf

Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf, Germany

Dr. Anne Halenius

Institute for Virology

University Hospital Düsseldorf

Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf, Germany

Professor Stipan Jonjic

Medical Faculty, Department for Histology and Embryology

University of Rijeka, Croatia


  • Prof. Dr. Dr. Luka Cicin-Sain

    Luka Cicin-Sain

    Leiter der Nachwuchsgruppe Immunalterung und Chronische Infektionen

    0531 6181-4616

    0531 6181-4699


Beteiligte Gruppen


Geldgeber / Förderer